Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he asked his NATO allies why they have eyes on the Syrian soil, when he was faced with the question of if Turkey has intention of leaving the region.
“There is an issue that they have been dwelling on: ‘When are you [Turkey] going to leave here [Syria]? In return, we asked them ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Do you have a border here?’ No. ‘Are you exposed to harassment fire?’ No. ‘Is there an attack against you?’ No. ‘ ‘Then what are you doing here?’” Erdoğan told a group of Turkish reporters accompanying him during his visit to London for the NATO summit.
Erdoğan made these comments in reference to his quadrilateral meeting on Dec. 3 with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The Turkish president said that Turkey’s operation in northern Syria dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” was discussed in detail during his meeting with his counterparts. He said he told the three leaders that Turkey had no intention of leaving the region without first securing its peace. “We entered [northern Syria] to establish peace, and we will establish peace there,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
‘One country pledged support for Turkey’s safe zone plan’
Asked by a reporter if any of the leaders at the quadrilateral meeting had pledged their support for Turkey’s “safe zone” plan, Erdoğan said: “Unfortunately, the countries’ insensitivity regarding this issue is continuing. I will not give a name, but only one country said ‘We’ll give the necessary support regarding this issue.’”
“We are saying that, at least within the context of our own resources, let’s start a work in the area between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain. Let’s build a refugee city with a joint work. We have also plans for that; we are saying that let’s put these plans into execution and gradually send the Syrians in our country, who have lands and homes in that region, to their own homelands, based on a voluntary system,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey says it aims to establish a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, after clearing the region of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It says its incursion into Syrian territory on Oct. 9 draws from its goals of establishing this buffer zone along its borders.
The “safe zone” project also includes the area between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, which Turkey’s operation focuses on. A deal brokered between Turkey and Russia on Oct. 22 said that the YPG should retreat from the border area covering Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain and Turkey would take this region’s control.
Turkey previously said its “safe zone” project could settle up to three million refugees who have settled in Turkey and Europe after eight years of war at home.
Erdoğan also told reporters on Dec. 5 that the four leaders had agreed to meet again in Istanbul in February and to hold talks annually.
‘We told NATO allies not to leave us alone in struggle against terrorism’
Asked if NATO had “sufficiently understood Turkey’s security concerns” regarding the YPG, Erdoğan said that it had urged allies “not to leave Turkey alone in its struggle against terrorism” during the summit, especially after Ankara dropped its objection’s to the alliance’s defense plans for Poland and the Baltics.
Ahead of the NATO summit, Turkey had angered other NATO members by saying it would block the defense plan until they designated the YPG a terrorist organization.
“You know, yesterday [on Dec. 4], we took a step regarding Poland and the Baltic countries [Turkey’s dropping its block on defense plan]. [NATO Secretary-General] Stoltenberg, Macron, Merkel, Polish President had all called us previously and asked us for support on this. After talks with my colleagues, we said ‘yes’ to this, but told them ‘You must not abandon us in the fight against terror,’” Erdoğan said.
Stoltenberg told reporters after the summit that allies had not discussed how to designate the YPG during their talks.
Turkey considers the YPG as a terrorist organization due to it being the Syrian arm of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.
‘Those who have eyes on Syrian soil should leave the country’
Erdoğan said separately on Dec. 4 that those who have eyes on Syrian soil should leave the country, as he commented on Turkey’s military offensive in the country’s northeast.
“We don’t have eyes on Syrian soil, but those who have please leave,” Erdoğan said in a speech during a meeting with representatives of Turkish community at a special event at Old Billingsgate building in London. He added that Turkish troops will remain on Syrian soil “until the area is cleared of all terrorists,” referring to the YPG.
During his speech, Erdoğan defended the offensive due to Turkey having a 911-kilometer-long border with Syria.
“Everyone gives advice to us. They ask us, ‘What business do you have in Syria? When will you get out of Syria?’ We tell them one thing. ‘What are you doing in Syria? Do you have a border with Syria? No. So, what business do you have there?’” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey is subjected to attacks by the YPG, ISIS and the PKK.
“Today, there’s a Turkey that seeks no one’s permission when carrying out operations for its national security with an independent foreign policy,” Erdoğan also said.